fingerprinting: a defense of leaving your mark


Don’t scratch your name in the wall OF COURSE! – But, what do we take away with us from a visit to a museum? postcards, a book and a “selfie”.  Why does this matter to a house museum site? Because what I consider important may not be the same for you. We have to allow a visitor to “FINGERPRINT” their visit in all kinds of ways.    In this case, the “selfie” played a major role in the engagement of the site and artifacts. Allowing humor is another factor in “fingerprinting”.  Just because we are making faces in our “selfie”, doesn’t mean that we are not appreciating the Snake-Dragon, Symbol of Marduk, the patron god of Babylon, Panel from the Ishtar Gate (604-562 BC), Babylon, Detroit Institute of Art, 2011


In some cases, “fingerprinting” may be the desire to sit quietly in a space – as  here in the Jefferson designed – University of Virgina Library Rotunda building, 1826. There are several important factors exhibited in this photograph: 1. The ability to actually sit (rather than forced to stand), 2. The ability to find a private space to engage the building on my own terms, 3. A non-interpreted environment in which one can individualize the experience.


 In other cases, “fingerprinting” may exist in the need to take a rest from the activities of the day.  This visitor engagement should not be seen as inappropriate, in fact this should be viewed as a sign that the visitor considers the site a safe-space to relax without any worries or judgements.  This photograph was taken in the rose gardens of Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, New York,  house designed by Alexander Davis in 1838.


A “selfie” at Grounds for Sculpture, Trenton, New Jersey. 2014.


Several ideas of “fingerprinting” are shown in this photography; 1. You can donate toward the restoration of a house project and in exchange you can write on the house itself.  In essence literally leaving your mark on the process of preservation (Heidelberg Project, Detroit Michigan, The “yellow house”), 2. the owner of the “yellow house” engages a visitor/donor on her porch and poses for a “selfie” as part of the experience.  In this way the visitor leaves something and takes something away with them. 2014.


Making your mark on the “yellow house” at the Heidelberg Project, Detroit, Michigan. 2014.


It’s not hard to see why “tagging” with street art is a form of place-making as in this alley in Detroit, Michigan. 2014.


Forms of guerrilla art, such as these artist produced leaflets, also are used a means of “fingerprinting” an urban space and personalizing it. Detroit, 2014. Take a look at this link – Paris Locks


Even us museum nuts enjoy a “selfie” after a Chipstone Foundation THINK TANK.  The THINK TANK was one in a series of discussions to help re-envision The Wilton House Museum.


Meadow Brook Estate, Rochester Hills , Michigan  Unfortunately, after seeing the above sign (my family group and I)- walked straight to the gift shop,  bought a post card, and got in our car & left.  We proceeded to have a great lunch instead of a restrictive tour.  All of this – after we traveled out of way to go and see this estate.

3 thoughts on “fingerprinting: a defense of leaving your mark

  1. Pingback: Fingerprints and Votives | AASLH Blogs

  2. One of my favorite things about working in house museums (& I have worked at many) was being in the house before the first tour of the day. Alone in the space, drinking in the light as I opened the shutters, curtains, was a magical experience. It is the closest I have ever been to shear bliss. I totally support your idea of “fingerprinting”.


  3. In response to your blog post, “Fingerprinting: A Defense of Leaving Your Mark,” I would like to begin by saying, “Bravo!” Recently, I visited two historic house museums, The Gibson House Museum and Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, as research for my class, “Revitalizing Historic House Museums,” at Tufts University. Both tours were similar with ten to fifteen participants, and both guides led, hour-long, lecture style, tours as we were escorted from period room to room. (For this response, I will focus on the way in which the tour was given, instead of the content provided, because that would need another paper altogether.) There were two main differences between the tours: the rules regarding photography, and the amount of time spent in each room.

    During my tour of The Gibson House Museum, photography, without flash, was allowed. Our tour guide told us the story of a particular room, asked if anyone had questions, and then led the group into the next space. This simple act of leading the group into the next room did two things: first, it allowed people taking photos to snap better images after most of the people had moved on to the next space, and second, it gave people a chance to take a closer look, to see something that was blocked by another visitor, and most importantly, to imagine what life would have been like without the guides interpretation. The small act of allowing photography, combined with a moment of space after the guide had moved on, gave me, and the other visitors, a chance to leave our metaphorical fingerprints behind.

    At Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, photography was not allowed, and we were instructed not to take out cell phones on the tour. I was pretty bummed about the photo rule, and even more frustrated about being pressured to put away my cell phone (which I was planning to use to take notes, and to Google curiosities that arose while looking throughout the house). Like the other tour, our guide told us the story of a particular room, and asked if anyone had questions, but instead of leading the group into the next room, she gave directions to the room’s location, and waited to be the last person out of each space. This left no time for close looking, because I was worried I would slow down the group. Additionally, listening to the guide in each room with no moment alone, and having no photographs to reminisce, left me feeling unattached, and unable to create a meaningful experience.

    Maybe there are other ways to give visitors a way to connect with museums that don’t include photography. However, from my experience, “No Photography,” rules take control and trust away from the visitors. If, for some reason, photography cannot be allowed due to collections bylaws passed down by donors, then museums should provide explanations as to why visitors cannot take photos, and think of another creative way to allow visitors to personally connect to the experience. Let them touch something, or take something home, and most importantly, give them some space to absorb on their own.


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